Friday, March 27, 2015

Tommy's Take on High Strung

This is one of those that I was dying to read when it was announced: An RPG about playing members of a rock band, by the guy that made an RPG about playing members of a baseball team.

ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: This review does contain affiliate links for DriveThruRPG. Purchasing products via those links may provide me with store credit, which will be used to purchase new RPG products that will probably be reviewed on this blog.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The book is $5 in PDF format, and only 56 pages. Characters are built by assigning an array of points to attributes, and then adjusting based on age. As is appropriate for the genre, the attributes are: VOIS, FNGR, DANS, ENRG, CUTE, SMRT. Those are short for Voice, Fingers, Dance, Energy, Cuteness and Smarts. You also have Hope, which is set by your age, and which powers you through the trials of being a struggling musician. You also get Trainings, like Classically Trained, Troubadour, Acapella, Rhinestone Cowboy, Headbanger and MANY more, each of which set the skills you know (you disburse points to them based off of your age), as well as provide an attribute adjustment.

Task resolution is a d20 die pool, add up the successes. Successes are measured by rolling a number of dice equal to your skill (plus 1) and trying to roll under your relevant attribute.

You randomly generate the number of clubs in the area that want live music, then try to use your band's Reputation to get booked. From there, everyone tries to put on the best show possible. However, there are potential complications which can come into play on a gig, like the whole band coming down with a cold, someone getting hurt at their day job and their performance suffering, one of the band showing up drunk, a fight breaks out in the club, or maybe the roadies get lost and can't find it!

Gigs are ran in three stages, each of which are broken up into smaller aspects: Draw (Promote, Graphics, Organize), Music (Vocals, Lead, Bottom, Rhythm) and Show (Electrify, Choreograph, Flash and Banter). You make skill tests at each stage, tally them up, and it tells you how much Notice and Hope your group gets. Pretty straight forward.

You can also participate in music festivals and battles of the bands and hire Agents and Managers to help out. You can also get hooked on booze, drugs or sex, which can be a problem.

There is a second subsystem in place for creating signature songs, which is cool in that the band members pour their Hope into it (in a sort of Blind Bid system), then premiere it at gigs and demo tapes. Of course, music critics are lurking to attempt to make or break you, as well.

And then we hit the third major section of the game: Nasty cards. You know how many bands kind of implode? Well, that's where Nasty Cards come into play. You can draw a Nasty Card at the beginning of a session and maybe use it to gain the expense of one of your fellow bandmates. Maybe you sleep with their S.O. Maybe you steal a solo from a bandmate. Or attempt to drug everyone at a party and get yourself. Or you "borrow" an instrument and accidentally break it. Fun stuff.


- Just tons of random tables, from interesting background facts to random real life events to random band name generators. Obviously, I find this to be hugely appealing.

- Sure seems like this could be hacked for indy pro wrestlers with just a little work.

- It feel very close to Tools of Ignorance, but with some cool and clear tweaks to make the struggling rock band vibe ring true.

- Something about "Jobs" never quite "clicked" with me. Ostensibly, a crappy, no future job was depressing and ground you down, but were less demanding on your time, but I didn't see that mechanical balance on the demands of the job. I don't know if I just missed it or what.

- It probably needed some kind of mechanic for one of the band members to become a "breakout star" and become "too big" for the band.

- A little bit of rock attitude, but no exploitative art, which  makes this nice pick for a broad audience looking for something more than standard RPG fare.

I liked the idea of Tools of Ignorance, even though I don't like baseball. I love this, because it's a great idea and more in my wheelhouse. I really just can't shake the notion that this would be relatively easy to adapt to indy pro wrestling.

If you are always grumbling that there's nothing fresh out there, then spend the $5 to pick this up.